Dear PropellerHeads, I upgrade my Android smartphone every couple of years but it seems like text messaging is virtually the same as it was a decade ago.  What’s the deal?

A:  The deal is, you’re right.  While there are a lot of cool things phones have upgraded over the years, text messaging has largely been slow to change.  This is despite it being the most used feature on smartphones with a whopping 97% of owners texting (pewrsr.ch/19JDwMd).  There are some advancements that have been made, but just recently a new protocol called RCS (Rich Communication Services) is showing up with national carriers to provide a major upgrade.

First, a brief history of text messaging.  Originally introduced for use on second generation cell phones, it actually predates iPhones, Blackberries, and even Palm Pilots.  It didn’t actually get used for the first time commercially until a decade later in 1992 when an engineer texted “Merry Christmas” to a Vodaphone customer named Richard Jarvis.

If you use any other messaging service or app it’s easy to tell that old-fashioned texting, better known as SMS (Short Message Service), really hasn’t been keeping up with the times.  It still boasts a paltry 160-character limit, rudimentary group texting options that mean once you’re included in one YOU’RE IN IT FOR LIFE, and lacks more kitschy features with embedded media and links. 

This is where RCS comes in.  It’s actually been around since 2007, but never gained traction due to lack of carrier adoption and other factors.  However in late 2018, Google announced it was rolling out “Chat” which is an RCS backed upgrade to texting that will allow Android users to have an experience more in line with iMessage and other popular apps. 

This will eliminate the character limit, give you more options when messaging people in groups, send high definition content, and provide live updates for things like location and itineraries.  Unlike SMS, it will use your data plan and not cellular connection.  RCS Chat is designed to be hardware agnostic, allowing you to work across multiple devices and making it much easier to keep communication fluid as you move from phone to tablet, laptop, etc. 

Now, RCS will not be an overnight transition.  Carriers in the US (and globally) are staggering support and supporting hardware releases, and you won’t get the full RCS experience until both you and the people on the other side of your chats have a device that supports it.  In the meantime, there is an app that Android users can install on their mobile devices to get in on the excitement early called Messages by Google (bit.ly/2RHi299)

If you’re still not sure what the big deal is, or maybe what exactly to expect over your current text messaging, there’s a great introductory video you can check out (youtu.be/NZzD934MMmU)

Some of you that use other messaging apps may wonder why you should consider the switch.  In a nutshell, RCS that’s supported globally by Android’s infrastructure will take most of the best parts of those other apps and provide consistent integrations, upgrades, and support that smaller developers can’t keep up with.  Lastly, with adoption by the major carriers as the new standard for Android devices, you’ll see it continue to pick up newer features in a way that SMS never really attempted. Hopefully that helps you understand the upcoming transition a bit.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to figure out how many times I need to press the “4” on my Nokia 3310 to send an animated poop emoji to my buddy.